5 Ways to Make Money as a Graphic Designer
Graphic Designers are, without a doubt, people passionate about their career.
They can often be heard to say that they don't do it solely to make money, it’s about doing something they love. That is both noble and pure.
It certainly vital to personal happiness to do work one loves, but why not do work you love and make some extra money while you’re at it?
Lots of people do that, even designers.
You are not compromising your principles just because you are making lots of money, so figure out which of these following ideas will work for you, and go for it.
What Prevents you making money as a graphic designer?
A lot of things.
They would love just to be creative, but unfortunately, they have to eat.
So they take jobs that they would never have dreamed of when new to the profession – they take them just for the money.
There is nothing wrong with that, to be sure, but it does eat up time and is not particularly satisfying.
When a difficult client wants a business card design, for example, and you have crafted at least 25 designs, none of which they like, you are losing time – valuable time.
You have charged by the project rather than the hour, and by the time you finally have a business card that is approved, you have made perhaps $5 an hour.
And designers are “realistic” about their profession.
They are a bit like singers and football players.
They know that only a few will make it to the very top and they accept the reality that it probably won’t be them.
This thinking keeps you from the “big dream.”
You don’t achieve what you don’t strive for.
So, you take a position with a graphic design studio because it brings in a steady income, perhaps doing a little freelancing on the side.
This provides stability and security, but it does not provide an incredibly sweet revenue and lifestyle.
How then, can a designer make money on par with other leading industries?
Here is an exploration of this topic, in the hopes that you will gain some perspective and decide that you could be one of those few who makes it.
Here are 5 Ways to Make Money as a Graphic Designer
1 – Have a Hit – a Single Hit
Everyone knows of singers who have written and recorded a song that became a hit.
That one song catapulted them into the spotlight, and people wanted more.
They are then given recording contracts, write and produce more, and, as we say, “the rest is history.”
But they did not get the one hit easily.
They had been writing songs for years, perhaps performing in small venues, taking voice lessons and practising their craft daily.
The design world is no different.
Most designer “superstars” in the profession today have worked very hard at their craft, practised over many years.
Then, they created a design for someone or some entity that was so elegant and so perfect, it resulted in huge recognition within the design community itself and far beyond to the general public.
Then, of course, everyone is clamouring for their designs and throwing large sums of money at them.
This is what happened to Massimo Vignelli, for example, after his fantastic subway maps for New York City.
And it happened for Jonathan Ive, head of design for Apple.
And of course Milton Glaser, whose “I ♥ NY” will be eternally iconic.
Others, like April Greiman, understand the creativity that new digital tools have fostered and ushered in an entirely new wave of computer-generated creatives.
If you can capture one particular project, either for a client or on your own, that brings you recognition, you are on your way.
You are looking for that one idea that will dazzle.
2 – Build Your Graphic Design Agency
Of course, there is significant money to be made for designers who also have the skills to lead a group.
When you become a design agency and employ others, you now are both a part of a team but also one who profits from the work of others too, under your leadership.
There are some options:
- Begin with a partnership. Naturally, you will “share the wealth,” but the potential that designs will become recognised is increased. And working collaboratively on projects may just be the catalyst that moves you both up in the design world.
- Work toward creating your brand by hiring designers who share your style. The idea here is to develop a reputation for designs that are uniquely your company’s, that help to put businesses in the spotlight with logos, product designs and such. The goal is universal recognition. Your Brand portfolio is associated with you and can be attributed to you, even though your name is not on them. As your Brand rises in recognition so does your business.
3 – Look for Startup Opportunities
In Great Britain alone, in 2014, there were 581,000 new startups.
Unfortunately, less than half of those will survive through the next five years.
But that is still an incredible number of opportunities for the ambitious and enterprising designer to make an enduring footprint.
Locate startups that have a strong potential for success.
This takes some “sniffing” and some basic business sense, for example:
Look at the products and services a startup intends to offer.
Are they genuine?
What competition does this startup have?
Who is investing in this startup?
When you are comfortable that a startup has potential, then you offer to come in on the ground floor with your design ideas – for the website, for the logo design, for the products and product advertising.
Who doesn’t recognise the Nike swoosh or the Starbucks cup?
On a smaller level, you can create a visual brand for a startup and continue to refine and enhance that visual brand over time.
As the company continues to make money and grow, so do you.
4 – License Your Creative Work
Licensing graphic design work takes time, a lot of footwork, and the building of a reputation before you can launch into this fortune-making endeavour.
First, you need a strong online presence.
This means you have a fantastic website that features your designs; it means that you have a blog with a broad reach; it means that you have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, a Twitter and an Instagram account.
You have some award-winning designs, even in smaller venues, and you publicise these awards.
You have a graphic design portfolio of work you have created for clients, with references from those clients.
Now you create designs, and you license them – that part is pretty easy.
You also license other designs you set up in the past, the rights to which you have not transferred over to any client.
The next step is to approach companies and offer to allow them to use your designs on any products, on their websites, and anywhere else in their brand marketing – for a royalty fee.
These usually run between 7-10% of sales.
The lovely thing about this is there will be no intermediary, and you just wait for the checks to come in.
This is great passive income while you pursue other creative endeavours.
The key to success in this approach is to become a brand unto yourself; to have a recognition within the design community, to have a portfolio that is impressive, and to be regarded as a “mover” within your profession.
And if your reputation is widespread, and if others know that you are willing to license for royalties, then businesses will come to you.
5 – Make Money from Old Designs
There is real money to be made by resurrecting old designs, particularly if you have built your brand reputation well.
Here are some things to think about:
- Be certain that you do have the rights to some of your old work if clients have paid for it. If a customer has exclusive rights to your designs by contract, then you can dump those plans – there is nothing you can do with them. In the future, develop contracts that provide for non-exclusive reproduction rights, at least for some of your designs that do not directly relate to a client’s brand, like a logo design.
- Pursue licensing, as explained above, with some of those old designs.
- Sell prints of your old designs. These make great wall art, especially in offices. And don’t just consider wall art. Plenty of online companies will print your design on T-shirts, coffee mugs and all sorts of promotional merchandise. If you have a very active following on social media, offer these for sale. You can print as ordered with most online printers.
- Consider gallery showings. No, you are not an artist in the traditional sense of the word, but neither (really) was Andy Warhol. Frame up some of those older designs and look for galleries that feature contemporary and post-modern work. Typically, galleries take 50% of the sale price, but that is money you did not have before. And, it is always great to say, when courting clients, that your work has featured in galleries.
Which of these will bring you your wealth?
Hopefully, these tips to make money as a Graphic Designer will give you the incentive to get out there and build some revenue.